It's time for Mardi Gras

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY, Ga. -- Those working at the Albany Welcome Center have been busy this week stuffing packets and sorting out volunteer T-shirts for the festivities taking place this weekend.

And things aren't likely to slow down.

In anticipation of the Mardi Gras weekend events, officials with the Albany Convention & Visitors Bureau say they expect roughly 50,000 people to attend Saturday's activities -- with an estimated impact of $3 million.

"We think it will be a great weekend for Albany," said Albany CVB Director Lisa Riddle. "We invite everyone to come out."

The first of these events, the Snickers Marathon Bar Marathon and half-marathon, will begin from its usual starting point on Front Street near the Albany Civic Center at 7 a.m. Saturday -- with the course remaining open until 2 p.m.

The marathon's course runs into East Albany, into west Albany, around the Doublegate Country Club and back. The half-marathon takes the same course until it nears the intersection of Gillionville Road and Lullwater Road, at which point it turns back toward downtown.

The finish line for both is on the riverwalk behind the Albany Welcome Center. By the time race day comes, officials expect to have 1,700 runners signed up to participate.

"We are tracking 300 more runners than last year," said Riddle. "The economy has gotten better, so races everywhere are up."

Last-minute registrations will be accepted at the Hilton Garden Inn from 3 p.m.-9 p.m. Friday, during which time the marathon's packet pickup and expo will take place. Parking at the race itself will be at the Civic Center.

The SB&T Bike Race, for which officials are planning to accommodate 300 cyclists, will take place from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday beginning from Pine Avenue. Criteriums will take place all day long, during which time there will be a free kids' race at 2 p.m. and a pro race at 3 p.m.

There also will be a Lee County bike race the following day at 9 a.m. starting on Mossy Dell Road just off of Georgia Highway 32.

The race in Albany will have the same figure-eight route that it has had through downtown in years past, except that this year it will run through Flint Avenue instead of Roosevelt Avenue. The bike race events carry with it a prize purse of $8,500.

While that is ongoing, the downtown festival will take place from noon to midnight Saturday on the 200 block of West Broad Avenue -- an event officials plan to do a little differently this year.

"There will be fewer vendors and no generators, so the noise will be less," said Riddle. "It will make for a better afternoon."

The cost for admission will be $5, with children ages 14 and younger gaining free admission with a paid adult.

While there may be fewer vendors participating, the public can still expect to see what they typically do at the festival -- food, arts, crafts, Mardi Gras attire, among other things.

"There will be lots of kids' activities," Riddle said.

Also at the festival, from noon to 2 p.m. officials will be giving people the opportunity to adopt a turtle for the Flint RiverQuarium Turtle Race set to take place outside the facility -- at 117 Pine Ave. -- at 4 p.m.

"Things are going well," said Laura Calhoun, the event's chair.

There are a total of 10,000 turtles up for adoption, with roughly 1,000 turtles expected to be accounted for on Saturday alone. As of Tuesday afternoon, the number of adoptions had doubled from the same time last year.

"Most adoptions happen the week of (the event)," Calhoun explained.

During the race, there will be four heats with 2,500 turtles in each. One basket from each heat will go on to the final heat, at which time they also will compete with the winning turtles that took part in the January and February preliminary races.

The cost to adopt a single turtle is $5.

There are other events planned for outside the RiverQuarium beginning at 10 a.m. that will include puppet performances and animal shows, also with a $5 admission price.

The top prize will be $3,000 cash. Other prizes include free gas for a year sponsored by Homerun Foods, a $1,000 Publix grocery gift card, a Hobie Lanai kayak and free Chick-fil-A for a year.

This excludes the $1 million prize that officials had been offering the last two years of the event.

"We are not doing the $1 million turtle this year," Calhoun said. "We chose to put that money into the RiverQuarium."

The winners don't have to be present in order to claim their prizes. Adoptions are still ongoing at www.flintriverquarium.com until 8 a.m. Saturday, and will take place at the RiverQuarium up until 3 p.m. the same day.

"Hopefully we will adopt all 10,000," Calhoun said. "We will be happy with 8,000."

Proceeds from the race will go to benefit the RiverQuarium.

The festivities will not end Saturday. On Sunday, from noon-6 p.m., Deceased Daddies Daughters will host "Sounds of Praise in the Park" at the Veterans Amphitheater.

The event, which will be raising proceeds to benefit area families that have lost their father figures, will feature entertainment by various musical groups.

"The main thing will be to bring the community together," said Cassandra Moye, CEO of Deceased Daddies Daughters. "We will honor and celebrate fathers to let them know they are appreciated."

The families will be those of Lt. Cliff Rouse of the Dougherty County Police Department; Gunnery Sgt. Eddie Neal, and Larry Jones, a Worth County farmer who died of cancer last month.

This is the second year Sounds of Praise has been a part of Albany's Mardi Gras celebration. Last year, Deceased Daddies Daughters was able to raise $1,000 for the families the event was benefiting.

"If we can make the $10,000 mark (this year), we would be overjoyed," Moye said.

The first 27 fathers that come to the benefit with their families will receive gift bags, Moye added. There are several area businesses that will also be donating services to the three families being honored, and there will be ticket drawings to give the public opportunities to receive gifts.

The event will be free to the public, but there is a $25 fee for musical groups wishing to play at the event. While the groups are preparing to take the stage, Unique Ryders, Ram Ryders and Albany Ruff Ryders will be participating in a charity bike ride -- which is scheduled to end at the Civic Center at 12:30 p.m.

The public can also expect Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany and representatives from area public safety agencies to participate in the event, Moye said.

Those seeking more information on the ride or Sounds of Praise may contact Moye at (229) 206-7094.